Mystech: I weep for the future.
(Wired) LOS ANGELES — Creators of the Sci Fi Channel’s forthcoming Battlestar Galactica miniseries promised that their “re-imagining” of the 1970s classic would be darker and grittier. In Hollywood, that can only mean one thing: more sex.
“We realized the only way we could improve on the original is if the Cylons could have sex,” quipped co-executive producer David Eick at Tuesday night’s Los Angeles premiere. The chrome-domed “walking toasters” from the original TV series are succeeded by — well, really hot blond chicks, who infiltrate human society to engineer its doom.
One of the newly humanized enemy androids, Number Six, is played by former Victoria’s Secret model Tricia Helfer (so that’s Victoria’s big secret! — we always knew there was a sinister purpose behind those ubiquitous catalogs). While in the throes of sex, her spine glows a luminescent, otherworldly, X-ray crimson.
Episode No. 1 of the two-part miniseries, which debuts Dec. 8, explodes with a jaw dropper of a scene that blends Cylon eroticism with equal parts pants-wetting apocalyptic terror and blast-tacular deep-space warfare. None of this should work, but under the nuanced direction of Michael Rymer, it does, spectacularly, and the rest of the episode never disappoints.
Fans of the ’70s kitsch classic will discover that the new show departs from its predecessor in many ways, including a gender switch for popular, swashbuckling character Starbuck, once played by Dirk Benedict. In the 2003 version, the role belongs to Katee Sackhoff (The Education of Max Bickford, Halloween: Resurrection).
“Starbuck was a womanizing, cigar-smoking guy,” explains SciFi.com general manager Craig Engler. “Now, she’s a man-izing, cigar-smoking bundle of trouble.”
The look and feel of the four-hour miniseries contrasts not only with the original, but also with the rest of science fiction television at large. Grand, cinematic, Star Wars-like battle tableaus have been replaced with a “reality space” aesthetic. CGI warfare scenes feel like hometown aerial shows shot by handheld camera, with abrupt zooms, unexpected pans and streaming contrails.
The miniseries was filmed on a figure-eight-shaped stage that Engler describes as “one of the largest sets we’ve ever built,” allowing for extended, continuous walk-through shots that open the first episode. And no more robot fighter pilots: The latest Cylon warplanes are so artificially intelligent, they simply fly (and fight) themselves.
But perhaps most significantly, the show asks a question few before it have. Galactica 1.0 chronicled a ragtag herd of humans struggling to save themselves after losing their homeland. Through a speech delivered by Commander Adama (sensitively portrayed by Edward James Olmos), the new Galactica asks, “Why are we, as a race, worth saving?”
Geeks will find much to cheer in the miniseries, which was co-produced and co-written by Ronald D. Moore (also co-executive producer of the HBO series Carnivale). Networked computers are cast as the Achilles’ heel of humanity (something any systems administrator worth his root privileges already knows), and old-school tech triumphs when outdated retro-battleships provide humans with a much-needed fighting boost against more powerful robot bullies.
The new miniseries premiered in L.A. the same day that an interactive TV project based on Galactica debuted just a few miles away at the American Film Institute. And it follows the recent releases of a DVD collection of the original series and a Galactica-themed game developed for PlayStation and Xbox.
The interactive TV project was the product of a collaboration between Sci Fi Channel, Microsoft, Vivendi Universal Games and L.A.-based tech firm Schematic, among others. The result is a prototype developed with next-generation models of Xbox and PlayStation in mind that reportedly will include built-in TV tuner cards. Viewers can pause the show and drop out to play games (like steering a human fighter pilot through a Cylon battle), or explore characters and places in depth.
“We’re trying to get rid of the rectangle and move people inside the TV and into the show,” explained Dale Herigstad of Schematic. “We aren’t uprooting the story line, and we’re not just going behind the scenes as you would with a DVD — instead, we want the viewer to be plunged right into that scene.”
The Battlestar Galactica enhanced-TV collaboration was one of eight interactive TV prototypes that debuted Tuesday at the film institute. Now in its sixth annual edition, this year’s enhanced-TV workshop was marked by a more pragmatic approach than usual, according to Anna Marie Piersimoni, associate director of the institute’s new media ventures.
“Participating teams tended to stick with technology that’s deployed and available for consumers right now — not two years from now,” said Piersimoni.
One of those projects, an iTV version of ABC’s Celebrity Mole, is scheduled for broader public release in January on the Xbox and Windows Media Center platforms.
While the future of both the Battlestar Galactica enhanced-TV prototype and the miniseries on which it’s based may be uncertain, developers of the interactive TV show take heart in the fact that a private screening for Microsoft chairman Bill Gates is scheduled for this week.
“We asked, ‘If you watched TV with your Xbox, what would that feel like?’ and went from there,” said Schematic’s Herigstad. “If the miniseries expands into a series, we’d love to continue the eTV project — with a real budget. If we could do this with no budget, no time and no finished show, we’d love to show you what we could do with full backing.”